Sunday, July 31, 2011

Yes money then a guaranteed honey

Pretty women are waiting for their online prince in this web site but the online prince should first fork out USD 100 (SGD 120) to message and secure a date and meet her. The formula is simple: "no money no honey". "It may be materialistic for a woman to find a rich man, or shallow for a man to flaunt his wealth but that's the way the world works" say Brandon Wade, 41 years old Singaporean-born US citizen.

He has converted his idea to an online business, He says his web site has 120,000 (240 members in Singapore) registered members worldwide and is "already profitable". He is also the founder and CEO of the controversial website where rich old men, called sugar daddies could seek a date with young pretty girls.

In this online dating website, you can call it e-bay of dating, users can buy or sell the opportunity of going out on a first date. The site guarantees its members a first date and a possible long term relationship. Motto of the web site is of course "everyone has a price". Man needs to fork out 100 USD for a first date with a member who lists herself in the "attractive category". Once the money - called wink in the site - is accepted, the site provides e-mail contacts two both parties and they can negotiate the details of their first step to a meaningful, fullfilling relationship or one night bang and go adventure.

"If users find someone they are interested in, they make them an offer. The highest bid Wade has seen was from a man offering a woman $1,000 if she would go on a date with him.

Before the date begins, the bidder must hand over half the cash payment. The remainder is paid at the end of the date. The bidder must also pay the cost of the date. The site collects 5-10 percent of the bid amount as a fee "to unlock the gate to communication" between the two. There is no payment for future dates.

The lowest bid allowed is $10. This does not appear to deter women "if the guy is attractive," Wade says. "There's quite a lot of $10 dates."

Wade says he started the site because of his own dissatisfaction with online dating sites. Before launching it, he took two focus groups of 20-30 women, showed them pictures of "average looking guys" and asked them if they would go out for a two hour coffee date. Most said no. What if they guy was willing to pay you for a chance to prove himself? Eventually, everybody said yes, if the price was right."
Source : Guess which O.C. men pay most for dates

Can a price be put on love? Can  you buy love? "Looks and money are important factors motivating two persons to move to first base." says National University of Singapore sociology professor Tan Ern Ser.[1] "Women, in particular, tend to disregard men whose social status or income is so low. So, at least to some extent, people have long been putting price on love" says Singapore Management University psychology professor Norman Li.[1] What they say are universal facts but these facts are more severe in Asia where a man without a handsome level of income can virtually forget about having a girlfriend or wife. This is one of the main reasons we have so many "foreign brides" in Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore. In mainland China this has even been proudly presented with some money minded chinese women.

[1] - The Straits Times - Can Buy Me Love?

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Singapore housing affordability reloaded

No I will not write about the general housing affordability in Singapore, it is already well covered everywhere. I will write about a specific case I have read today:

“John (not his real name), had bought a DBSS unit for $660,000 in 2008 from a developer under the Fiancé/Fiancée Scheme. John was supposed to submit his marriage certificate by 20 April 2011. However, due to unforeseen circumstances, he is now unable to continue with the purchase as he has since broken up with his fiancée, who is a foreigner. With the marriage now cancelled, he is ineligible for the scheme. In addition, he will now have to pay a penalty of 20 percent of the purchase price. The amount works out to $132,000.”

His story is here in yahoo sg.

This is really bad situation and a topic on its own. But what caught my eye is our dear John’s salary. He makes 2,500 SGD per month! A reader put it very straight forward:

"Bought the DBSS because he and his girlfriend fell in love with the location? But he is earning only $2,500. I'm sorry, but that's not quite enough to service the loan for a $660K flat."

I do not want to hit more to someone who is already in trouble but there are some lessons to take from our dear John’s case:

  1. John is a high risk taker. The house he bought is extremely unaffordable for him, it worth’s 22 times his yearly income. If his fiancé earned same amount, it is 11 times their yearly income (I am assuming his ex-girlfriend was not a high earner). I know people making at least 3 times he makes but would not dare to go into that deal.
  2. With this affordability level twice the internationally recognized “severely unaffordable” limit, many many things would go wrong during his struggle to pay his loan for the next decades. How he was thinking to pay when his wife was on maternal leave? What would happen if he loses his job in the next 30 years?
  3. I really wonder how he secured a loan at the first place. What was the bank thinking when giving a loan to him? Well just joking we well know now after financial crisis what those bankers  think when they give you a loan beyond your limits: their bonuses.
  4. And most important of all, it is not very realistic to "believe" that all of those people out there who buy a Singapore property with those high price tags for owner occupation or long term investment are more reasonable investors than flippers. And whatever our dear real estate agents and companies tells, their demand is not that “healthy”.

Master for Business Analytics in Singapore

This blog post is moved to Business Intelligence Singapore :

Master for Business Analytics in Singapore

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Cheapest places to rent an HDB flat in Singapore

Which are the cheapest towns to rent an HDB in Singapore? And which are the most expensive? What are the average rental prices in Bedok, Bishan, Ang Mo Kio, etc. to rent an HDB? You can consult rent advertisements both online and in printed press but they are not aggregated and the prices you see there are asking prices, not the transaction prices. HDB quarterly publishes median rents of HDB flats in various locations with subletting approvals in a given quarter. Before going into a rental agreement it is wise to check these prices since asking prices are in many cases way higher than the actual transaction prices and you can end up paying a lot more than you should to an HDB flat.

Prices below are median prices and obtained from HDB service here. Median means, half of the flats rented below the indicated rental price while the other half are rented above the indicated rental price. HDB has recently published second quarter 2011 median subletting prices in different HDB estates. According to the transactions in the period between 2011 April and June, below are the median prices for 3 room HDB flat rents by town, ordered from cheapest to the most expensive town. 3 room flat, also known as 2+1, comes with one living room, one kitchen, bathroom and 2 bedrooms usually one of them is a master bedroom with attached toilet. Bukit Panjang, Pasir Ris, Woodlands, Choa Chu Kang and Jurong East are the cheapest 5 estates to rent an HDB followed by Jurong West, Bukit Batok, Geylang, Bishan and Bedok. Not suprisingly Central Area, Marine Parade, Queenstown, Bukit Merah and Kallang/Whampoa are the most expensive places to rent a 3 room HDB flat. Please note that not all estates appear in all tables since in the quarter mentioned, there may not be transactions in a town for a given HDB flat type.

3 Room HDB Flat Rentals By Town (Q2 2011)
Town Median Rental
2 PASIR RIS $1,500
3 WOODLANDS $1,600
4 CHOA CHU KANG $1,600
5 JURONG EAST $1,600
6 JURONG WEST $1,600
7 BUKIT BATOK $1,600
8 GEYLANG $1,650
9 BISHAN $1,700
10 BEDOK $1,700
11 YISHUN $1,700
12 HOUGANG $1,700
13 ANG MO KIO $1,730
14 TAMPINES $1,800
15 SENGKANG $1,800
16 TOA PAYOH $1,800
17 CLEMENTI $1,800
18 SERANGOON $1,800
20 BUKIT TIMAH $1,810
21 BUKIT MERAH $1,900
22 QUEENSTOWN $1,900
24 CENTRAL $2,100

The above numbers also show that there is a great gap between asking prices advertised and the transaction prices. For example I have hardly seen a 2+1 HDB for rent below 2,000 SGD in some property agent infested online sites while the median price there is 1,700 SGD! The message is clear: Negotiate!

Below are the 4 room (3+1) HDB flat median rental prices in Q2 2011. A 4 room HDB flat comes with a living room, kitchen, bathroom and 3 bedrooms (one of them master bedroom and the others are common rooms). 

4 Room HDB Flat Rentals By Town (Q2 2011)
Town Median(Rental)
1 WOODLANDS $1,800
3 CHOA CHU KANG $1,950
4 BUKIT TIMAH $1,950
5 JURONG EAST $2,000
6 SEMBAWANG $2,000
7 GEYLANG $2,000
8 JURONG WEST $2,000
9 PASIR RIS $2,000
10 HOUGANG $2,000
11 BEDOK $2,000
12 BUKIT BATOK $2,000
13 YISHUN $2,000
14 PUNGGOL $2,100
15 SENGKANG $2,100
16 TAMPINES $2,100
17 SERANGOON $2,100
18 ANG MO KIO $2,200
19 BISHAN $2,200
22 CLEMENTI $2,300
23 TOA PAYOH $2,300
24 QUEENSTOWN $2,400
25 BUKIT MERAH $2,500
26 CENTRAL $2,500

See also:

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

USA should default and decrease debt ceiling now

It would be just amusing to watch the comedy of USA debt ceiling issue if USA was not the largest economy of the world and the only environment which can produce great innovations. These last 2 weeks showed how uneducated the US public about economy and how the rulers of this country are detached from reality. Visualize a family which can only meet ends by credit card amounting 40% of his salary. His credit card debt ceiling is reached and the father wants to increase the ceiling. Will it save the family? Hell no, it will only save the day. Only one thing can save the family, stop borrowing now and live within your means. Yes it is very painful now but at least you avoid the much bigger pain later. It is much better to default with 14K debt then 28K debt. It is obvious that USA will not grow out of its debt if something age turning like locomotive, electricity, car, computer or internet is not invented. But since resources of USA are extremely misallocations due to endless attacks to free market by Keynesian central banks, it is also very unlikely that something like that will be invented in USA. Do not look at the rest of the world, no other country has the environment for an invention like that.

I do not believe that Americans like their kids. If they did they would take the pain now and prevent a bigger pain waiting for their kids. But it seems like they hope they will avoid the pain and die before they default so their kids can pay their debt.

So I totally agree with Ron Paul when he says "USA should default now, or suffer a more expensive crisis":

"The alternative to defaulting now is to keep increasing the debt ceiling, keep spending like a drunken sailor, and hope that the default comes after we die. A future default won’t take the form of a missed payment, but rather will come through hyperinflation. The already incestuous relationship between the Federal Reserve and the Treasury will grow even closer as the Fed begins to purchase debt directly from the Treasury and
monetizes debt on a scale that makes QE2 look like a drop in the bucket. Imagine the societal breakdown of Weimar Germany, but in a country five times as large. That is what we face if we do not come to terms with our debt problem immediately."

Mark Thornton goes one steps beyond in Mises Institute web site and suggests "lowering the debt ceiling":

"What we really need to do is to lower the debt ceiling. If Congress passed legislation that systematically reduced the debt ceiling over time, the economy could be rebuilt on a solid foundation. Entrepreneurs in the productive sectors would realize that an ever-increasing proportion of resources (land, labor, and capital) would be at their disposal, while companies that capitalized on the federal budget would have an ever-declining share of such resources.


Under a reduced debt ceiling, the federal government would also have to sell off some of its resources. It has tens of thousands of buildings that are no longer in use and tens of thousands of buildings that are significantly underused — about 75,000 buildings in total. It also controls over 400 million acres of land, or over 20 percent of all land outside of Alaska, which is almost wholly owned by the government. There is also the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and many other assets that could be sold off to cover short-term budget shortfalls.

Of course, reducing the debt ceiling would force the government to stop borrowing so much money from credit markets. This would leave significantly more credit available for the private sector. The shortage of capital is one of the most often cited reasons for the failure of the economy to recover.

Lowering the debt ceiling would force federal-government budget cutting on a large scale, and this would free up resources (labor, land, and capital) and force a cutback in the federal government's regulatory apparatus. This would put Americans back to work producing consumer-valued goods."

Source : Lower the Debt Ceiling

Why resale HDB prices are not falling?

HDB resale (secondary market) flat prices rose 3.1 per cent in Q2 2011 from 1.6 per cent of Q1 2011. Meanwhile resale transaction volume increased 6 per cent in the same quarter. Why, after all those demand side property cooling measures, resale HDB flat prices are not falling?

First there is supply crunch due to lack of fresh resale HDB. An HDB flat enters resale market 5 years after its completion and to see what the fresh supply is in 2011, we need to go back 5 years in time to 2006. Google “DTZ Insight Singapore house price debate Liquidity rules the market” and look at the Figure 1 named “Completion of Residential Units” in the research document. You will see that since 1996, 2006 was the year with the lowest number of residential unit completion. According to the research 2006 had also the lowest number of HDB completions since 1996. 5 years from that year, it is not surprising that we have a great supply crunch now. In terms of fresh resale flat supply 2011 is the worst year. 2013 also will be bad since 2008 figures are also very low.

Second, there is a supply crunch due to high private property prices. A net unit of HDB flat usually enters resale market when its owner upgrades to private property but since we have a very high gap between HDB prices and mass market private property prices, many simply cannot upgrade. So even a flat is eligible to be sold in the secondary market, it will not enter the market due to its owner’s inability to upgrade.
“Those who took Q1 2011 to understand the cooling measures have come back to buy on the resale market,” said Mohamed Ismail, PropNex CEO.
“However, there are still many owners who, due to the effects of the cooling measures — especially the lower 60 percent Loan-To-Value ratio and revised Minimum Occupation Periods, are reluctant to move or sell their flat, resulting in a supply crunch and driving median resale prices as well as COV levels up.”
Source : Resale HDB prices up

Third, there is a supply crunch due to property cooling measures. In addition to the high prices of mass market private residential units, loan to value ratio and dual public private property ownership restrictions keep many in their HDBs.

Due to these supply problems, the prices can only stabilize and fall, if demand falls down enough. Demand is probably falling down fast now. First HDB is releasing more BTO projects this year and removing a large number of buyers who goes to resale market frustrated with the long queues for new HDB flats. HDB offered 15,000 flats so far in 2011 and will offer 25,000 flats for 2011. This is nearly 3 times the average of 8,260 units average of years between 2001 and 2008.  According to the Housing Matters blog of MND, 23 per cent of demand for HDBs comes from first time buyers.

National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan recently said that it would take 3 to 5 years before the prices of HDB resale prices stabilize:

“ChannelNewsAsia reported Mr Khaw as saying that in order to address an imbalance between supply and demand, new build-to-order (BTO) flats are being built, but these would take three years to be completed.  Mr Khaw added that young couples who already have a place to live should not head for the resale market but stick with applying for BTO flats.

Current HDB residents who want to get a bigger flat, or 'upgrade', should also stay out of the resale market to avoid crowding the market, he said.  'Why do prices go up? It's very simple, because there's an imbalance in supply and demand,' CNA quoted Mr Khaw as saying at a community event. 'Supply means building more. (But) you won't see the flat until three years later. New housing plans will have effect on the resale market. So the more I push out, I'm sure there's some influence,' he added.”
Source : Forums ChannelNewsAsia

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

All electric sports car Tesla Roadster back in Singapore

Tesla Roadster, all electric sports car, was already spotted on the roads of Singapore in April 2011, just a few of months after the Tesla Motors closed its Singapore. Tesla's tax break expectation for the roadster was not realized and unlike Hong Kong and Malaysia, Economic Board of Singapore decided to not give any green tax incentive to the roadster. It was quite sad actually, not because we did not have this rich man’s toy in Singapore, it is because the all electrical roadster could open up the doors for its affordable successor Tesla Model S sedan to mainstream market. Unlike other electric car producers, Tesla Motors is following the same route with all previously successful inventions and technological advancements: start with an expensive model and create a mass marketable model with the experience and revenue generated from this model. From cell phones to computers, all commercially successful ventures went through this path.

After Tesla closed its office, Tesla sports car are still here thanks to a local firm, FSG Mobility Concepts. The company has a showroom in Jalan Kilang Barat. FSG Mobility Concepts thinks it is positioned well to market the car since they will provide good after sales services. They are experienced in converting petrol driven cars to electrical cars and since they have converted a Porsche 911 and a BMW 5 there is a good interest of their electric car conversion services. I wish they are successful to promote this car since according to their web site, they are planning to bring Tesla Model S to Singapore by 2013 (expected production starts in 2012). Tesla Model S sedan will be priced around 67,000 USD for a intermediate version. Normal charging will take 3-5 hours and a QuickCharge will be possible in 45 minutes with 480 V outlet. Battery swap in 2 minutes will also be possible.

Tesla Roadster in Singapore - Source :
According to David Chou, managing director of FSG "you can get from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur on 13 Singapore Dollars of electricity". This is very good since it should same something other than the planet to justify its 520,000 SGD price tag! (For those who do not know, these type of cars are very expensive in Singapore due to 100% tax and COE and a a Porsche 911 Carrera S costs 400,000 SGD +).

See also Renault Fluence EZ

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Car Sharing In Singapore

I personally do not own a car and do not see any current and future need to own one in Singapore. We live in a 25 km to 45 km city anyway. Everywhere is within reach with a very good transportation system of trains and busses and relatively cheap taxi rides and it is many times cheaper and shorter to take a train, bus or taxi to central places instead of going there by your own car and looking for a place to park. But this is of course not the only reason: cars are expensive here.  We have this thing called COE (Certificate of Entitlement). It is a program designed to limit car ownership and hence the number of vehicles on the country's roads. COE system requires residents of Singapore to bid for the right to buy a motor vehicle, with the number of certificates restricted. And many bid as if they cannot live a single day more without a car, even COE prices are on the roof. Well, crashed passed the roof to the sky actually. COE is now 4 times where it was just 3 years ago! And a 1.6 litre Japanese Sedan costs 100,000 SGD+ now. Yes, I am not joking.

Back in my country they are already expensive compared to USA but still car ownership is at least twice expensive here which physiologically prevents me to buy one even if I can effort to have one. Many car owners will not agree but truth is truth: A car is just a non-essential, ridiculously expensive item in Singapore. Majority knows this and stays away from buying one. So do not think that we mostly own BMW's here when you hear that BMW is the top selling brand. It is simply we majority do not own a car.

But this does not mean that there aren’t any times where a car is better than public transport. You just do not need to own a car to enjoy a car. Car sharing in Singapore is very well established and conveniently available when you need a car. It brings the services of a car without its really annoying problems: high loans to pay, finding a place to park, insurance, repairs, etc.

What is car sharing? Car sharing is sharing a car among a group of people. This is usually coordinated by a car sharing company that takes care of the headaches of a car like insurance, parking, upgrading while you only enjoy its service. As far as I know there are 3 car sharing companies in Singapore:  Car Club, WhizzCar and KahShare.  The cars from these companies are available in many HDB estates. And since car ownership is now beyond the reach of many they are increasing their car numbers.

According to KahShare web site those who rides less than 10,000 KM per year or not more than twice a week can benefit:

"A wide range of drivers can benefit from our innovative KahShare solution. Those who drive less than 10,000 km a year, or less than twice a week will find the flexibility of the KahShare system invaluable. For people who sometimes need a second car, or choose not to purchase a car at all, KahShare provides a vehicle for their occasional driving needs. Companies can also benefit from the KahShare experience, with a choice of alternate fleet cars and transport for sales staff."

How convenient is car sharing? According to a typical user it is very convenient:

“The best thing about car sharing is its flexibility, in terms of when and where I can get the car.” says a 47 years old Singaporean user. “I live in Pasir Ris where 3 Car Club locations are. In nearby Tampines, there are four or five. So it is very easy for me to get to a car.”[1]

But how frequent he fails to get a car? He says he only fails when he books at the last minute. Director and shareholder of Car Club Lai Meng conducted a study on their 65 cars in their fleet and average annual distance covered by the cars is 20,700 KM, not very different than a privately owned car: "Each shared car serves 25 drivers compared to 1 or 2 served by a privately owned car".[1]

Another very interesting and unique car sharing concept is peer-to-peer car sharing. In this model, the car sharing company do not own cars but facilitates a market where private car owners can rent their cars out to others when they are not using them. Singapore based peer-to-peer iCarClub just does this with some of the cheapest car rental rates in Singapore. iCarClub is Asia's first peer to peer car sharing market which let's private car owners to rent out their cars to others. Peer-to-peer car sharing thus lets a car owner to make money by renting his car, a big big liability in Singapore, while he/she is not using it.

[1] - Car Sharing Singapore Back In The Fast Lane - The Straits Times

Singapore's First Pod Style Flashpacker Hostel

In a place like Singapore where descent hotels prices range between expensive and very expensive, hostels are good options to spend less on a bed and more on everything else. Many backpackers on tight budget prefer hostel and hostels are also very good places to make friends. Instead of locking yourself into a single room it may be more fun to share a dorm with strangers from around the world even if you can afford to live in a hotel.

With the increase of budget travelling option as well as the appetite for adventure among youngster, more and more backpackers are coming to Singapore. In the last 2 years, the number of backpacker hostels increased 1 every month showing the increasing interest for cheap accommodation, something not very readily available in Singapore.

The price difference between hotels and hostels has a large room for hostels to spread into, and some backpackers hostels in Singapore are charging more, sometimes  40% more than the usual price in exchange of additional comfort and services.

For example backpacker hostel Rucksack Inn 2 in Hong Kong Street provides private double room with cable TV for 95 SGD per night. This price is still cheaper than many hotels in Singapore and comes with a friendlier environment of a hostel.  In the Lavender Street outlet of this hostel, backpackers can borrow netbooks for free.

Who would pay for these extras? An emerging type of backpackers called flashpackers. A Flashpacker is basically an affluent backpacker who is backpacking with a bigger budget.  And next month, a concept flashpackers hostel will open its doors at Ann Siang Road: Matchbox the Concept Hostel. Already at a good location (a Chinese shop house just right next to Club Street and China town) it offers more than location. This new hostel will have capsule-like dormitory beds priced at 45 Singapore Dollars per night. According to MyPaper Matchbox hostel will be the first hostel in Singapore offering pod style accommodation:

“It will feature 3 types of pod dormitory: a woman only boudoir, a premium two bed dorm and a 17 bed mixed dorm. Prices will start from 45 Singapore Dollars per pod per night and includes an all-day breakfast.”

Pod Style Beds In Matchbox The Concept Hostel Singapore
For August 2011 there is a promotion and the prices will start from 35 Singapore Dollars per pod per night. It is good to hear that there are more accommodation options and competition in this end of the hospitality market with boutique hostels. But no worry if you need to count for every dollars throughout your holiday, no frills type of hostels are going nowhere and actually increasing in number and capacity.

Here are some other boutique style hostels in Singapore.
5footway.inn Project ChinatownWink HostelBunc hostelAdler Hostel

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Stingy company ends up spending a lot for hotels

Two of my ex-colleagues were coming to Singapore for 2 months and their boss called me for advice to find a short term accommodation for them. I have given him some serviced apartment and short term rental I have known. He has concluded that it was quite expensive and requested low end hotels. I told him that accommodation in Singapore is expensive and currently it is very expensive. Anything below 100 SGD per month is most likely very bad. Since he was stubborn to find a cheaper place I have given up. I told him they can check internet for cheaper options but they had better check the place with me before booking.  I did not hear from him, even until the arrival date of the guys.

This weekend I thought about them. Since the company will go for the cheapest I thought is there a way that they end up booking a hotel in Geylang. Then I said “no, they are not that stranger to Singapore and they would check it before they book”. Wishful thinking? Two days ago one of these two people called me. He told me the company booked them a cheap hotel in Geylang. I laughed “oh got why the hell you didn’t check with me before booking? I hope it is not one of those with hourly rental rate”. He was afraid it was one of them so they had rushed out of the hotel after only 1 hour of arrival at 5 AM in the morning. Since they were so tired of 11 hours of flight, they could not look for a place. In the evening they have managed to book Orchard Hotel on Orchard Road. “Wow very nice but isn't it quite expensive?” He said it was expensive but they had no choice. Following they could not find a place; most of the hotels were fully booked for the next week. I have started to call the serviced apartments for them with no luck. All were also fully booked. They have then managed to find a room in Beach Hotel. Later I have given them the phone number of Bencoolen Hotel. This is a very nice and central one and I often advice it to people on work trip. This time they could find a room for one they and the hotel was fully booked until July 20th.

Tomorrow they are hopping to another hotel, this time Fragrance Hotel Ocean View. All of the rentals are between 138 and 168 Singapore Dollars per night. They seem to jump from one hotel to another for a long time until the firm bookings they could secure. Lesson here is clear:

If you will stay in Singapore, book your place from 1 or better 2 weeks before.

Check the place in internet before booking. I personally find the quality of hotels quite disappointing compared to the overall wealth of the country. Do not make mistake there are some horrific hotels here and if the price is in the lower end, it is always better to google the place before booking. Some think it is hard to come by a bad hotel in Singapore. It is easier then they think.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

IMAX Movie Theater In Singapore

Many may not know yet, since May 2011, Singapore has an IMAX® Digital Theatre System.  IMAX Corporation and Shaw Theatres Pte Ltd have inked the paper last year to install a digital IMAX(R) theatre system at the Shaw’s premier location, Lido Cineplex. This first and currently only IMAX’s Digital Theatre System of Singapore.[1] It is installed in Shaw’s Lido Theatres during its 7 months long make-over. Lido Theatres are on Orchard Road, at the intersecting corner of Orchard Road and Scotts Road and a few minutes’ walk away from Orchard Road MRT Station.

What is IMAX? IMAX is a motion film format developed by a Canadian company with the same name. It is usually used for special venue film presentations like Omni Theatre IMAX Dome Screen In Singapore. As of March 31, 2011 there were 528 IMAX theatres (408 commercial / 120 institutional) operating in 46 countries.

Currently if you want to watch Transformers: Dark of the Moon with IMAX 3D technology (IMAX 3D is not the same as normal digital 3D), you can go there. Try to purchase tickets from internet since when I checked today for the movie all tickets for Sunday and all the evening tickets for Monday and Tuesday were sold out. Price per ticket for an IMAX experience of fighting robots is naturally expensive; it is 19 Singapore Dollars per ticket. Also “Cars 2”, which is coming soon, will be featured in IMAX theatre.

Transformers: Dark Side of the moon can bw watched IMAX 3D in Singapore.

Update (April 2012):
Due to the overwhelming popularity of the first Imax Screen at Orchard Road, 200,000 people visited the theatre to watch blockbusters such as Mission Impossible : Ghost Protocol, Transformers: Dark Side of The Moon and Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows: Part 2 within 11 months of opening, Shaw introduced the second Imax screen of Singapore earlier than planned at JCube shopping mall in Jurong East

Singapore Property in 2011 and interest rates

Colin Tan, head of research and consultancy at Chesterton Suntec International asks what will happen to Singapore residential property market if interest rates begin to rise from its all-time low values. Singapore Interbank Offer Rate (SIBOR) is the major determinant of the mortgage rates in Singapore. And SIBOR is influenced by 2 factors: The United States Federal Funds Rate (Singapore Central Bank uses currency exchange rate as policy tool while leaving interest rates to markets) and the amount of liquidity within the Singapore banks. Since SIBOR is ultra-low, mortgage rates are also ultra-low.

Colin Tan argues that simple supply-demand fundamental is not the only driver of Singapore residential property market: interest rates, cost of money, continuously has increasing role. It has been kept ultra-low for so long time (2.5 years now) by FED that enough number of investors has no idea how high it can get. They, with the help of property sellers and agents, concentrate only on the current positive cash flow. This positive cash flow is in fact thanks to artificially low interest rates.

Colin Tan puts the psychology of a typical Singaporean buyer boldly:

“In property-obsessed Singapore, many buyers take a short –sighted view: Future problems are tomorrow problems. Let us focus on today; who knows what will happen tomorrow? Prices may shoot up and I can just re-sell my property for a tidy profit”. [Source: Property 2011]

This reminds the warning Professor Chau Kwong-wing of the University of Hong Kong put boldly about Hong Kong residential property buyers:

"People think they can afford an expensive flat with a reasonably cheap mortgage. Their dreams will burst and the flat will become unaffordable when the interest rate rises." The professor has a point. Variations in interest rates can mask or magnify structural affordability, which is measured by the Median Multiple. This is because interest rates are subject to fluctuation, while buyers and sellers do not renegotiate sales prices after the deal is concluded."

But if majority of the buyers think they can sell and go with a handsome profit to justify their property investment, they will try to offload their units at the same time to a probably shrinking demand pool. Again, enter the Greater Fool:

"The greater fool theory (also called survivor investing) is the belief held by one who makes a questionable investment, with the assumption that they will be able to sell it later to "a greater fool"; in other words, buying something not because you believe that it is worth the price, but rather because you believe that you will be able to sell it to someone else at an even higher price."

Unfortunately as Mr. Tan observes “the people closest to the prospective buyer, namely the housing agents and bankers, are not likely to give sound advice or even warn of future potential pitfalls, because they depend on the commission from the purchase for their bonus” (See also our article What your friendly property agent won't tell you).

We have to add that mainstream media does not help either.  Many of them “consult” property developers or agents for comments on every single property news and all these specialists answer in the same way “there are slight pressures but no worry things are going up and will go up”. They also feature all those property investors who made good profits from their past property investments (an almost always no article on the ones who burned on their investors). Mainstream media just fuels the kiasu fire burning in the people.

In the not so distant past, the very unlikely or completely omitted scenario of the” interest rates up, rental and prices down” scenario was realized several times. Since many current buyers have no memory of it. Forget about Asian Financial Crisis, just look at interest rates hike of 2004 after just 3 years of low interest rates. Yes, the investors here are very different compared to USA. Here you cannot buy a house without an income or you do not have something like 100% loan to value ratio. But still, there are many overstretched multiple property investors whose only intention is to protect their money against inflation or have a future rental income. Many of these people do not look like thinking about a possible negative cash flow on mortgage payments or price fall.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

What is kiasu?

You will hear this word, kiasu a lot in Singapore. This Hokkien word is so widely accepted that it is included in the Oxford English Dictionary. But what is kiasu? What exactly it means?

Kiasu literally means fear of losing (kia = fear + su = loss). When kiasu man captures a poor soul, the victim becomes rigidly over-cautious and over prepare for even simple things. To some extend it is actually very useful in a highly competitive society like Singapore. But unfortunately it hardly stops there. Kiasu victim wants immediate results without waiting. He needs to be the first one and to get it he/she will behave with pure selfishness and disregard to others. Kiasu in practice usually means being the first or best at the expense of others.

Kiasu is not uniquely Singaporean behaviour. I have been told the story of a student who tore the leaves of library books to study and prevent others to study well back in my university (this student later became the prime minister of my country). But kiasu is particularly common in Singapore. Limited resources must have an effect. You can see kiasu as tissue papers on the food courts. People put them on the tables to reserve them and go and queue for food for sometimes 15 minutes. During this time his tissue paper occupies the space on the table. You can feel it as a disrespect to poor and a ridiculous admiration to rich. You can hear it "buy now or regret deeply when price goes up". But it can get more ugly. Today I saw a kiasu victim, a young lady in Tanah Merah MRT station. She was out and waiting for the train door to open and go into the car. But unlike us, poor losers who were waiting for the train door to open on both sides, she was in front of the door blocking the people who wanted to go out of the car. She went in the car first at the expense of people who were trying to go out and we went second :)

I am a kiasu baby, so why don't you call me!

Singapore property cooling measures are taking effect

It seems like Singapore governments anti property speculation measures (property cooling measures) are taking effect while taking their toll on the HDB resale market. According to Mohamed Ismail, Chief Executive of PropNex, the jump in HDB resale price as well as COV (cash over valuation) is a sign:

"Buyers who took 1Q11 to understand the cooling measures announced on 13 January 2011, especially the lower 60 percent Loan-To-Value ratio and revised Minimum Occupation Periods, have come back to buy on the resale market. However, there are still many owners who, due to the cooling measures, are reluctant to move or sell their flat, resulting in a supply crunch and driving median resale prices as well as COV levels up."
Source : Property cooling measures taking effect, says PropNex CEO

Mohamed Ismail thinks current ultra high Cash-Over-Valuation figures (28,000 to 45,000 SGD) are not sustainable but in the short run they will go up further before coming down. COV is cash you pay the owner over the price of the HDB. Since it is cash and cannot be satisfied from CPF or loan, it greatly effects affordability and its level show the demand versus supply.

If cooling measures are effective why the prices in all segments are further going up instead of falling? First of all cooling measures are effective, if they were not implemented we would see crazy price gains in all segments instead of current levels. Second the wind blowing to rise prices is still very strong, interest rates are low, mainland Chinese are crazy to create their version of property bubble around the world and there is a severe supply crunch due to under-construction of last decade. Third kiasu is very hard to overcome. Your friendly property agents are out there singing the same song: "Buy now or watch the prices go out of your reach with regret".

See also New Singapore property cooling measures Targeting non resident foreign investors

Monday, July 4, 2011

Omni Theater IMAX Dome Screen In Singapore

Many complain that there are very few things to do in Singapore. But on the other hand many would agree that there are quite a lot of things you can only do in Singapore. Night Safari, Universal Studios Singapore, Flight Experience Singapore are just few to count. But there is also another great attraction which is usually overlooked even by people living in Singapore: IMAX Omni Theatre in Science Centre Singapore. It is a great attraction, especially for the kids. Here there is an IMAX Dome which is currently showing 2 great movies: Hubble and Legend of Flights.

 IMAX is a technology you have probably heard before. It is a motion picture film format and a cinema projection standards created by the Canadian company IMAX Corporation [1]. IMAX movies are far sharper and clearer because they are recorded on a special film which is 10 times the size of conventional 35 mm movie frame in your typical movie theatre.

Omni Theatre in Singapore is a IMAX Dome screen. Which means the screen is not flat but shaped as a dome. It is a 5 storey screen measures 16m in height (5 storeys) and 23m in diameter.  The screen Stretches 180 degrees from wall to wall and is tilted at a 30 degree angle to the horizon, so it “wraps” over the audience giving a lateral view of 180 degrees and a vertical view of 125 degrees. This far exceeds a person’s field of vision. The screen is made of aluminium so achieves 30% reflectivity (enhanced clarity) and it is has 43.54 million perforations which allow air from the air-conditioners and sound from the speakers to pass through to the audience. [2]

This translates into a movie experience where the viewer is sucked into the movie.

IMAX Dome Screen - Source :

Currently you can watch 2 IMAX movies here: Hubble and The Legend of Flight. Hubble is a 43 minutes long IMAX 2D movie about the Hubble space telescope, one of the most successful space programs of all times. It features the repair mission to Hubble.

The Legend Of Flight is a 41 minutes IMAX 2D movie which through the eyes legendary pilot Mike Carriker, features how seminal airplanes of the 20th century have influenced the design of the Dreamliner.[2] It features some milestone aircraft from Stearman wooden plane to Airbus A380 and Boeing 787. You can also have a rare chance of watching a modern commercial airliner under construction.

IMAX Dome Screen is in Science Centre Singapore, which apart from this attraction has many things to offer. It is at the west end of the island, near Jurong East MRT Station which is on green MRT line. While there, if you have time I also suggest you to visit Chinese Garden which is 1 MRT stop away from Jurong East MRT Station.

[1] – Wikipedia – IMAX
[2] – Omni Theatre Singapore

Sunday, July 3, 2011

On the perception of property in Singapore

I sometimes try people here to get their opinion about property. I say "property prices in Singapore may fall in the future". And the answer I always get is the same "Property prices will never fall in Singapore". As you can see, I say "may" but I get an answer with "must". This is dangerous, not because what they think is wrong but dangerous because they think other scenarios are not likely and one does not need to consider them.

Just an example: This week I have realized that a colleague who bought a shoe-box unit for investment does not know that private property prices significantly went down just 2.5 years ago. He knew they went down in price but he did not know they went down something like 35 per cent. He was surprised when he saw the private property index of last 10 years.

Talking to him further surprised me more. The number of shoe-box units will triple soon and this will probably push the rents down. When the interest rates goes up the cash flow will most likely be negative. What will he do? He comfortable replied me "I then sell la." Welcome to Greater fool theory :)

There are some false assumptions about property buyers circulating in the world. First, many think buyers for owner-occupancy are not speculators. Well there are many who buy a "shelter" but a significant portion of them buy with the solid belief (not expectation) that property prices in Singapore will always go up. So you see many buying larger or more expensive units they can effort. Second many believe if someone is not a flipper, he/she is a sound investor. This also is a false assumption because again a significant number of property investors are highly uninformed about what they are going into. One of the most dangerous mis-information/assumption in the market now is the long term ultra low interest rates:

"Current ultra-low SOR rates translate into just 2,823 SGD per month for 35 years, 1 million SGD loan. If rates go back to 2006 levels of 4 per cent the payment rises to 4,300 SGD monthly![1]  In fact rates can go up further since current ultra-low rates due to USA money printing machine will most probably result in ultra-high rates in the near future.  Combine this with rental decreases, one can find him easily in red for years."

When I discuss this with the people many seems aware that rates will eventually go up. But the rates are so low now that they are unaware of the size of the increase and its effect to monthly cash flow. Many think 4 per cent is improbably high number and nearly all think that 4 percent is the highest interest rates can go up to. Actually 4 percent is the historical average of the interest rates so it is not impossible and also it is not the highest we have seen. Take a look at the graph below.

Historical Sibor Source:
As you can see, interest rates has gone up to 9.5% in 1998! It may look temporary but the graph also depicts something terribly wrong in the financial markets. Except several years around financial crises, the interest rates are artificially kept low by Western money printing machine to repeatedly rescue their highly corrupted financial institutions. This had a price we see as a potential crisis now, huge sovereign debt in Western countries. As you can see in the news we may well be at the end of 20 years long "rescue wrong bets at all cost" years where FED repeatedly throws money to wrong bets by keeping interest rates artificially low. Yes, even the 4% interest rate is artificially low. And West does not look in shape to create more public debt to keep interest rates low. 

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Singapore, Unseen/Unsaid

RediscoverSG team, 4 third-year students from Wee Kim Wee School of Communication, prepared a 10 part mini-series named "Unseen/Unsaid". They have talked with older generation of Singapore and tell us their forgotten stories in these 10 short videos.

"The lady in the Chinese opera video - she's an old Chinese grandmother who speaks Cantonese. She's from Hong Kong. She speaks traditional Cantonese, not street Cantonese" says Elizabeth Lee, on of the members of RediscoverSG. "We did not expect the older generation of Singaporeans would be willing to talk to us" she said. "You realize a lot of them have stories, but nobody has ever bothered to ask them. Once you ask them, they are willing to tell."

She says "growing up in Singapore we have seen a lot of things and used to think that they will be a part of landscape forever. But when we have grown older we have seen that a lot of things we have taken granted are disappearing from the landscape. So we have just wanted to capture whatever we can capture before they really disappear."

A traditional bakery, a glimpse of what lies behind the curtains of a Chinese street opera, an old playground sitting uncomfortable amid new developments. These are some of the videos they have prepares in 6 months and with $100,000 ($75,000 of it is a grant from National Heritage Board).  You can follow them from their web page rediscoversg.

Floating Officers of China

There was a joke about Boris Yeltsin, late president of Russia: To increase his ever declining popularity, Yeltsin decides to use a top secret Russian technology which enables a man to walk on the water. He selects a lake in Moscow and in front of a large crowd, starts to walk on the water. A man from the crowd shouts after the initial shock and reflects the feeling of the crowd: “Look, our president even cannot swim!”

When I saw the floating Chines officers of Huili, I remembered this joke. They can float on the road but people prefer to make fun of them ? You may not know the story: Everything starts with a bored Chinese citizen who decides to visit a web site no one typically visits, his city’s official web site. There he sees this shocking photo: His high profile officers are floating on the road! I have a word to these Chinese officers from here, I understand you want look like you are doing something to deserve your salary and other typical officer cash flows, but why can’t you make a professional prepare the photo instead of your neighbour’s computer geek kid? This is one of the worst Photoshop job in the history of internet!

The officers later try to explain that they actually have gone there but because the original photos were bad they have decided to prepare and put this photo on the net. But they could not escape from humiliation and many photos showing them landing on the moon or inspecting the dinosaurs.

Floating Officers of China
Floating Officers of China: Moon Mission Source:
Floating Officers of China: Dino Mission Source:
Unfortunately reflecting an illusion to hide the reality behind is very common in Chinese management culture, in both public and private sector. Remember the endless food scandals, accounting magic by Chinese firms, massive sales fraud in Alibaba, etc. In our age, all the hope of the West is tied to this country whose only real magic (!) is to convert its underutilized villagers to cheap labour. And after destroying billions in revenue-less dot coms and never paid back mortgages, the gold men of Wall Street are now pouring the money (printed to rescue them)  into east and commodities because they think China will continue to grow forever. With the scandals following each other, they may start to have sleepless nights now. Or maybe I am too naïve. They are probably sleeping like babies since they will get they commissions and bonuses and go away while United Banana Republics of America tax payers will shoulder the losses if Chinese bubble explodes.